Monday, 14 April 2014

Horus Heresy Book Review: The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett

Abnett we trust. Ever heard that saying? It’s fairly well known that a Dan Abnett novel is a safe bet. Aside from one very excusable exception in Prospero Burns, Dan pretty much always delivers the goods. But, as I was saying to Lee the other day maybe Dan is TOO much of a safe bet. To the point that his novels are becoming a little predictable and samey. Certainly his books seem to follow a pattern and although they are still storming good reads it’s been a while since I was blown away by one of his efforts. The Unremembered Empire is his first Horus Heresy effort since Know no Fear and he sticks with the Ultramarines here although the book is by no means ‘smurf’ centric. It’s not exactly a barnstormer but it’s still a pretty good read, be warned very minor spoilers will abound in this review.

The Unremembered Empire is another instalment in the attempt to make the events going on in Ultramar a ‘big thing’ rather than just a footnote in the timeline of the Horus Heresy. We’ve been lingering around here for some time now and although, to be fair the output has for the most part warranted it, it does feel like the overall narrative has got a little sidetracked. One can only assume that eventually we will get back to the meat of the Heresy and the March towards Terra. At least the next two books coming out seem to diverge from events in Ultramar, though we still have the graphic novel to come yet!

The Plot deals with Roboute Gulliman, cut off from the rest of the Imperium of Man, unsure whether the Horus Heresy has succeeded and the Emperor is alive or dead. Pretty much assuming a worst case scenario Roboute decides to found a new Empire with Macragge at its heart. Fashioning a new Astronomican he illuminates Macragge as a beacon and safe haven, offering sanctuary to his loyal brothers and hoping that one of them will be suitable as the leader of the new Imperium. Over the course of the book several new arrivals to Macragge cause celebration and calamity in equal measure.

This book cannot be read, I am sad to say, without having first read Vulkan Lives, one thing I will say is that although filler in its purest form it is obvious that great effort has been made to ensure the narratives intertwine in a natural fashion.  Although this is largely a good thing it does mean that it is very difficult to skip a book, in fact he two that are probably the least integral are two of the very best the series has offered! Angel Exterminatus and Betrayer. As far as The Unremembered Empire goes though it serves more or less as a direct sequel to Vulkan Lives so you’d better have read that first.

The Unremembered Empire features no less than FIVE Primarchs, easily the most since the book ‘The Primarchs’ itself, thankfully it is a long way from that abomination. It is credit to Abnett’s writing skills that The Unremembered Empire doesn’t become bloated such is the variety of content within. However it is here that the book struggles. With so much going on in the book it is hard for the narrative to remain consistent and several aspects of the book seem half finished, paid lip service and left to their own devices. There are also far too many maguffin type elements to the book, happy coincidence and convenient events abound in some shockingly lazy writing from Abnett.

The characterisation also seems a little off, not as rounded as it could been, formulaic and not really granted any depth. Gulliman is portrayed poorly in comparison to his peers and certainly not like the master strategist and tactician he is purported to be.  The Unremembered Empire is however a ‘decent read’. It flows reasonably well and is particularly easy to digest. Certainly it can be devoured in a few short sessions and is much easier to assimilate than its predecessor. Yet something seems ‘off’ about it certainly to me. It seems half thought out and half finished, like we are only getting half the story. It feels superficial and the narrative never feels like it does more than scratch the surface.
It’s a shame more time wasn’t spent exploring the concept and title of the book. So much occurs that that main idea gets rather lost in the silliness. The book is also a little inconsistent. Gulliman struggles to fend off 10 would be assassins whilst later a primarch with previously unseen demi godlike abilities is nigh on unstoppable, slaying whole squads left and right. In fact im getting a little sick of this primarch, though he seems fairly well written.
That’s not to say it’s a bad book though! It is very easy to read (this might be why it seems a little short) and the action, as you would expect is top notch, it’s also nice to see a few more Primarchs get explored although as I said some of the characterisation seems a bit off. It pace is also very quick and the book doesn’t stall in any places. In this way it is a complete contrast to Vulkan Lives which was slow but wonderful in its indepth character interactons. So The Unremembered Empire is not a bad book, it’s just the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, fast paced and full of action but a little superficial.  I hope that there is more to come I just feel that we got The Unremembered Empire Pt1 here rather than the whole deal.


1 comment:

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, I particularly liked the way that a fairly minor even, as you say, is fleshed out into a major junction of the paths of some important players. The Lion especially I think is developed some more into a figure that is undoubtedly loyal, ending this "he was waiting to see who won" nonsense.